Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Linux Desktop Mess - Well, There's Your Problem Right There.....

by +Ken Starks

I always laugh when I listen to politicians pontificate about how everything in their party is perfect, and those in the party opposing...well, according to them, they pretty much suck.

No does bring me a laugh when I hear one politician, speaking of an opposing party member.

"My esteemed colleague from across the Aisle..."

"My well-meaning opponent and friend is mistaken..."

When what they would like to say is:

"That pay-to-play shyster who opposes me is a..."

"If Senator Slashmeister spent more time at roll call and less wearing his wifes...

Well, you get the idea.  No one says what they mean when countering or responding to an argument within the same environment.  It's all smiles and back-slaps until one does turn their back...

So when I say that I want to address something my "esteemed Colleague" Dietrich Schmitz published earlier, I do mean I hold Dietrich in the highest of regard.  My respect for him is great.  And while he may have made some good points, regarding "The Linux Desktop Mess".....there's more to the story.

A lot more.

See, many of us have taken on the task of introducing others to Desktop Linux.
And while we do a great job for the most part, our follow through isn't the best.  Introducing Linux to someone is just the first step.  It took me almost 5 months to clean up the damage I did by handing out Linux Live CD's and just walking away, wishing them the best of luck in the process.

No, the introduction is easy.  It's helping them understand what they are doing that's tough and more time consuming than many of us are willing to pledge.  It goes from being the introducer to being an Advocate.  Indulge me just for a minute here:


1: one that pleads the cause of another; specifically : one that pleads the cause   of another before a tribunal or judicial court.

2: one that defends or maintains a cause or proposal.

3: one that supports or promotes the interests of another. 
I would make a conservative guess that 80 percent of us are sufficient introducers, but as advocates....we fall down.  Truth be told from my perspective, I don't think 70 percent of the people who sit down at a computer on a regular basis knows what they are really doing.  They tend to be mouse clickers...extremely uncomfortable outside of the few tasks they know how to do well.
Those people, in my mind; are the last ones we should introduce to Linux.

"But, but Ken, we're supposed to be talking about The Linux Desktop Mess."

Yes we are, because largely, we hold some responsibility for making that mess.

How often do we ask those we introduce...What exactly do you use your computer for?  What are your requirements for work?  How many people will be using the computer?

And those are just the surface questions we need to ask a possible Desktop Linux candidate.  As loath as I am to do so...let me trot out ye ol' car analogy just for a minute.  Yeah, I know...I'm sorry.

When you walk onto the car lot, you know what it is the new car or truck will be doing.  You know the load it might have to pull.  You know the number of passengers you need to accommodate.  You also know how powerful the vehicle needs to be to suit your needs.  You need to know what kind of fuel mileage it gets.

A good car salesman is going to ask you those questions.  The last thing he wants in an unhappy customer.

But in referring to Desktop Linux, rarely is there money changing hands.  The person introducing someone to Linux doesn't have a professional or social contract with that person.  We simply hand them a disk with some quick verbal instructions and go on our merry way.

And after the recipient of that Live CD fails to get it to boot, or cannot get a piece of software to work.  The attitude is largely universal.

"Man, Linux Sucks."

I spent a good part of my day two days ago, installing Desktop Linux on a friend's laptop.  He wanted to explore Linux on his own time and in an installed environment.  Since my personal distro of choice is in a bit of a transition period now, I chose Linux Mint 14 Cinnamon for his Desktop.

He loved it.  The more he used the Desktop Linux side of the partition, the more comfortable he felt.

Until he needed to sync his Drive storage with his computer.

See, I didn't know that was going to be important to him.  I just assumed that Mint was a strong contender on the Desktop and it would suit his needs.

Well surprise, surprise...the Nautilus Fork in Cinnamon, Nemo; isn't well supported by Insync.  For those that don't know, Insync is the application the open source community wrote because Google is too busy to write a native client for Drive.  Actually, I tip my hat again for Dietrich, because his use of Insync as an example prompted me to write this.

So yeah...the company that had it's road to riches paved by Linux, now treats it like so much a round tuit.

Around to it...get it?  Ok, sorry...
But a Drive client of any kind was important to my buddy.  Nautilus IS supported but that meant that he had to install it.  Nemo is the head file manager and is the center of the Desktop.  Installing Nautilus did give him the tools he needed to sync Drive, but it screwed up his system a bit.  I'm researching our options with Cinnamon Mint to see if it can be straightened out.  Maybe a clean install, or possibly another distro that still uses Nautilus.
We all have our preferences for a Linux distro.  Some of us are fiercely loyal to that group and ideal.  We offer it to New Linux Desktop Users because it's the one we know and trust.
That is until we find that distro unable to meet the user's needs.
Dietrich is right.  The Linux Desktop IS a mess.  Personally, I think they missed our best chance to make Linux a known entity in the market.  Canonical was in a position to market Ubuntu as early as three years ago.  One centralized distro, one package manager to serve them all, even a built in tech support group in the forums.

But it never happened.  Little did we know that the powers that be had different plans for Ubuntu.
But here we sit...what new users we have retained, joined the ranks of us who already use Desktop Linux daily.  More importantly are the numbers you don't see...
Those that have given up in disgust and went back to their Windows or Macs.
Because as many of us realize...
Once someone pronounces that Linux sucks...they rarely come back. 

-- Ken Starks

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  1. I personally think that Linux is in such a mess because of the sporadic nature of the beast. To use your example of the file manager Keith...the mint team wasn't quite happy with the way that Nautilus were going, so they made their own file manager.

    Same story with the Elementary team and Pantheon files; and don't even get me started on X vs Mir lol :). For Linux to succeed it absolutely needs compatibility, and for that to happen, all this forking needs to stop.

    If a developer writes an app for windows s/he knows that they have explorer to contend with, and that they only have to write a single exe, maybe two if they are going x64 and x32 - but that's not a major job.

    Same with OSX, they only need to support finder and only need to release one set of packages.

    However, move over to Linux and you have apt, yum, pisi & rpm to name but a few. Then you have the different core applications that they all use in a different way. So this quickly becomes a nightmare for any developer.

    Linux doesn't need forks. It needs it's awesome developers to come together and work on a comment set of core applications and daemons to allow Linux to be easier to manager for everyone.

    That's my humble opinion anyway :)

  2. These are the sorts of issues that always steer me back to Ubuntu. In terms of standards, when developers are targeting linux, they tend to start with Ubuntu and GNOME and go from there.

    I don't think the diversity is bad as long as people realize that when they leave the fold of Ububtu or Fedora, say, they're not going to have the same sort of compatibility.

    I think the real issue with forking is that, to me, I can imagine how much better Nautilus might be if GNOME, Ubuntu and Mint worked on it together. I think the same of Unity vs. GNOME Shell. It's too bad there had to be such a spit and duplicated efforts. It's taken two years, really, for Canonical to get Unity "right." That's time that might have been better spent devoted to mobile.

    I don't know. I don't see the current situation changing.

  3. No OS, no matter how good, is a complete product: It still needs a computer to run it.

    People don't choose an OS, they choose a computer, and it has an OS already installed.

    The average person will never consider replacing the OS that came with their computer with something they downloaded off the Internet.

    The only way Linux can ever break out of the 3% ceiling it's been trapped beneath is to get enough OEMs on board that you can walk into Best Buy and see an aisle for Linux machines just as you do now for Windows and Mac.

    Computers with Linux pre-installed can offer the same convenience, robustness, and usability as any other system with an OS pre-installed. The experience is always better when running an OS on a machine designed especially for it.

    In fact, if you've ever tried to install a stock copy of Windows on a PC rather than using the restore disk made specifically for it, you'll usually find that Linux installs far more easily. But replacing the system the machine was designed for with something entirely different will never be a solution for most of the gene pool.

    In India, China, and some other countries, you can already find stores offering systems with Ubuntu pre-installed, ready to start using just like any Windows or Mac system.

    Will we ever see this in the States? Hard to say just yet, but Dell's Project Sputnik, though aimed at developers, is a promising start.

  4. Ken Starks wrote many good points and "More importantly are the numbers you don't see...

    Those that have given up in disgust and went back to their Windows or Macs.
    Because as many of us realize...
    Once someone pronounces that Linux sucks...they rarely come back. "

    While personal introductions are and were an important road to migration far greater are the production of PCs with GNU/Linux by OEMs and sales by retailers and roll-outs within organizations where the system administrator takes care of the glitches for the end-user. Most consumers will be quite content with a standard desktop. Probably it was five years ago when individual introductions were big. Now it's space on retail shelves that's opening up for GNU/Linux. The individual promoter is probably 1% of computer-users. Canonical expects to ship GNU/Linux on 5% of PCs this year. Major applications are being released for GNU/Linux, e.g. LightWorks, Steam, ...

    It is good to tune up our salesmanship but don't anguish too much over the occasional setback. We don't carry the weight of the world on our shoulders alone any more. We are not obsolete just yet and there's more we can do in local schools, organizations, and communities.

  5. rg4w wrote, "The average person will never consider replacing the OS that came with their computer with something they downloaded off the Internet."

    That all changed with waves of malware, Vista, "7" and "8". Ordinary users are angry at Wintel and open to real innovation. I used to meet people who accepted their fate. Then I heard, "I hate (...product...)". Now I see people buying Android/Linux and loving it. They are rarely bouyng "8". They love GNU/Linux where it's offered. Do a side-by-side demo of GNU/Linux on their current hardware and watch out for smiles. At that point they are quite willing to pay to have GNU/Linux installed or do it themselves. Youtube has many tutorials.

  6. Usually, when I go about handing out install disks to users, I include my contact information, or include instructions on where to get support (distro-specific forums, local LUGs, etc.). I also do inspect use cases in order to determine which distro should be used (or if Linux should even be installed at all), since the last thing I need is for my phone to be ringing off the hook because the user tried to do something and got a result he/she didn't expect (like, say, attempting to install iTunes because the user just got a new iPhone).